A perfectly Turkmenish result. Ilya Shablinsky on what comes next

19 March 2024

by Ilya Shablinsky

Source: Spektr.press


To all intents and purposes, Russia now has a military dictatorship, a dictatorship that has been taking shape actively for the two years connected with the war, but the “presidential elections” special operation has been an important milestone in its formation. The main thing has been achieved—a perfectly Turkmenish result. The entire spectacle was not especially original and actually was more like the “referendums” that various dictatorial regimes in Asia have held over the last 30 years.

However, another important result, in my opinion, has been the establishment and empirical confirmation of the fact that the stratum of the people living in Russia and experiencing revulsion at this dictatorship and dictator who unleashed the war is not small at all and is prepared to respond and demonstrate its protest, its solidarity or sorrow, the moment the direct threat of falling under the police clubs or investigation goes away. The regime itself has given grounds for this. The reaction to Aleksei Navalny’s murder and funeral was one visible testimony that there is an entire stratum of Russian citizens who never did get their candidate for president and who are in opposition to Putin’s regime.

But to begin with let’s recall something about the essence of what happened on 15-17 March 2024. How we took yet another step toward the empire of the Kims.

This undertaking had been planned and financed quite a long time ago, and the Kremlin had no doubts whatsoever as to the need for “regular elections,” which, in essence, were supposed to be a referendum on support for the long war and the military leader. The planned and propagandized result was for the people to say an amicable yes to the “special military operation” and its initiator.

I think both the turnout numbers and the numbers reflecting support were also planned in advance, and no one could have altered them.  But the objective of all the administrations, from top to bottom, was to create conditions to make it easier to reach their main goals. That is, to do a fairly dirty job. After all, there had to be a certain number of ballots in the ballot boxes. What was required for that? First, multi-day voting, so that precinct commissions always had the opportunity in the evening and at night to add the right ballots marked the right way. Multi-day voting is rarely practiced in the world. It’s mainly dictatorial regimes aiming to increase their percentages at any cost that like it. (The last time this kind of voting happened was in Egypt, where the ruling general, as usual, needed large numbers.) I understand how this is done technically. Three years ago, I myself was an observer from the Yabloko party for the Moscow Oblast elections. There was nothing we could do about night-time disposals. At the time, many votes were needed for Putin’s party. Now it’s just in case. True, even then, three years ago, we wrote complaints.

Hence, the next little task for the current people doing this dirty job is to eliminate any monitoring over this racket. I emphasize: any. In essence, the two parties—the KPRF [Russian Communist Party] and the LDPR [Russian Liberal Democratic Party]—have accepted their roles as tame or cardboard sparring partners. And they have given their observers, who they could formally send to the precincts, precise instructions not to interfere in anything. The New People party, which was fabricated by the presidential administration, and the New People’s candidate refused observers in general. Such a thing has never happened in the entire history of presidential campaigns. But this is all understandable. Finding additional bodies, even utterly worthless ones, for the precincts is no end of trouble. And then to pay them . . . Kirienko’s subordinates decided that’s enough already, we’ll do without.

And just who are these “observers from public chambers”? You still don’t know? These are folk who have different instructions: don’t just sleep in a corner but start swinging your fists at anyone who for some strange reason sees an obvious violation in the election commission’s actions. That is, any attempt at real observation is eliminated not by election commission members but with the fists of these very same activists.

What else should be mentioned? For example, that Grigory Melkonyants, the leader of Golos [Voice or Vote in English – ed.], the most authoritative organization of observers, has been in prison for half a year. That there wasn’t even a question of real observers from international organizations.

Oh yes, there’s also remote electronic voting. Yet another happy invention of recent years. They resort to it with special success at workplaces, monitored. That’s how nearly 5 million people voted. A third of the total Putin votes. Anyone who “voted” this way has to know that all transactions go wholesale into the dictator’s pocket. Absolutely all. And afterward you can’t find out or verify anything.

Finally, yet another condition for directly concocting any result at all was ensured back in January. As we know, not one of the candidates who came out with antiwar positions was registered.

So why did the state need all the above-listed contrivances if all their polls showed a gigantic —as much as 83-85%—advantage for the dictator? The problem is that the proportion of those who are repelled by the dictator and his war is fairly large. And even the inveterate tricksters and cynics from Kirienko’s company couldn’t determine or feel that out. They were distracted by the idea of an obviously outsider-antiwar candidate. They were made nervous, too, by the “noon against Putin” action. At noon on 17 March, we saw lines for the election precincts where they might have been expected—first and foremost in several districts of the big cities, in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Perm, Omsk, and several other cities and towns. At some precincts there were very long lines that brought to mind the recent campaign in support of candidate Nadezhdin. But there are hundreds of electoral precincts in the major cities. The concentration of action participants varied from precinct to precinct. All this had to be neutralized, rubbed out, in the eyes of the public who voted “for” and hidden as far under the covers as possible.

Now, the main question is what this Turkmenish result might be converted to.

One thing can be said with quite a lot of confidence: we are still expecting an even bloodier stage of the war than before. And we are going to be reminded from time to time that the people gave the dictator a mandate for this war. Here we should admit a certain dismal truth. Yes, the number announced yesterday by the lady from the TsIK [Central Election Committee] is the fruit of technology. At the same time, though, a significant stratum of Russian citizens, and even that cherished majority, may, for the most varied reasons, actually approve of the ongoing war. Even here there are nuances. Some might prefer to wrap up all this; some to go all the way to Kyiv (or Lviv, Warsaw, La Manche) without fail. But the essence is the same.

At this point one might, of course, draw an analogy to the Germans in 1941 or 1942. But those analogies are unproductive. We are dealing with a completely new situation and new prospects. As then, though, a great deal (let’s be frank, an extraordinarily great deal) depends on the allies’ position. Ukraine’s allies.

The dictator has still not decided the question of mobiilization. He probably will by the summer.

One more dismal prospect: the streams of people going to the Borisovskoye cemetery. These lines to the plots were seen not only by us but also by people in the presidential administration and the dictator himself. What has he decided about that? It is quite possible to shift the repression machine into third or fourth gear. So far, people have been imprisoned for a few words or a sentence in a chat, for a leaflet pasted up in a public place. What else might people be imprisoned for? I admit, I’m reluctant to get too good at predictions in this regard. But the threat is serious.

Finally, the Internet. They have long wanted to cut off the country’s media-space from YouTube. And they have been working on this at a leisurely pace for the last couple of years. They see their model in China’s information policy. From the technical standpoint, this is a rather difficult task. Meanwhile, even though YouTube is supposed to have been cut off in China, it remains accessible using a VPN. One way or another, the Digital Ministry and FSB [Federal Security Service] are going to try to solve the problem set by the dictator.

A few more words regarding political shufflings. It occurs to me that Mishustin will keep his position, both by dint of the fact that on the whole he vindicated Putin’s hopes and by dint of the dictator’s well-known conservativism. Actually, I don’t know how he’s going to talk with Nabiullina, who has also proved quite useful to the regime. The dictator will probably make her an offer she simply can’t refuse.

Lavrov is another question. More than likely, he will leave the Foreign Ministry, primarily due to age. An entire pleiad of diplomats of the Putin levy have been designated who are prepared on command to curse at and blow their noses on the ties of their colleagues from “unfriendly countries.” In this regard, we might recall that the first specialty of the current chief of Putin’s administration was as a diplomat.

In essence, there is not and cannot be anything new. The political regime that has taken shape at the given moment can be characterized as right-radical and totalitarian. At its head remains an elderly KGB colonel who has surrounded himself with absolutely loyal and trembling technocrats but who trusts only absolutely loyal and, accordingly, corrupted generals and colonels.  Exactly like him.

Due to the lack of oversight over his regime, he has plunged the country into crisis and a wild gamble, the outcome of which has yet to come clear. And now he is having a moment of triumph. Or rather, of sated contentment. And this condition, too, shall quickly pass.


Translated by Marian Schwartz

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